Nigeria escape World Cup dismissal, fined for fielding ineligible player against Algeria

Fifa has sanctioned the Nigeria Football Federation for fielding an ineligible player in their World Cup qualifying encounter against Algeria, but it will not affect the country’s participation in Russia next year.

The Super Eagles fielded right-back Abdullahi Shehu – who was on one-match suspension – in their final qualifying clash against the Desert Foxes on November 10 which ended in a 1-1 draw.

But the tie have been forfeited and a 3-0 victory have been awarded in favour of the north Africans, with the NFF slammed with a fine of CHF 6,000.

However, the sanction has no significant impact on the three-time African champions’ – who had already sealed qualification prior to the match – participation at the quadrennial event.

Also, on the Group B qualification log, there is an insignificant change as Algeria still maintain their position at the base of the log, but now with four points, and Gernot Rohr’s men are unshaken at the summit, but with 13 points, five better than then-close contender Zambia.

Caf Group B WCQ

Meanwhile, NFF president Amaju Pinnick has directed that an internal probe be set up and persons found guilty be dealt with.

“We accept the decision of the FIFA Disciplinary Committee to fine the NFF and award the match to Algeria,” Pinnick told NFF media.

“However, this is a grave error and somebody must be punished. We apologize to Nigerians for this and assure that this will not in any way derail or even distract us in our well-laid plan to ensure that the Super Eagles have a great outing in Russia.

“At the same time, I want to assure that persons responsible for this slip would not be given just a slap on the wrist. We are actually looking at a re-organization of the Technical Department.

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“The Technical Committee will henceforth play serious superintending role on all details, no matter how minute, in technical matters.

“It is important that all committees and departments at the NFF should move at the same pace as the Executive Committee.”


Christmas truce: Football & fraternity in the World War I ceasefire

Can football save the world? It seems like an absurd statement, but there was a moment in time when the game became a symbol for shared humanity in one of the darkest periods of history.

Following the outbreak of World War I — the so-called War to End All Wars — football played a small role in the coming together of British and German soldiers, when they suspended fighting for a short time around Christmas in 1914.

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There are many versions of events and the type of football that was played, with historians not totally agreed over the exact details.

As the festive period gets under way, Goal looks back at what is known about the famous story and its legacy.


British supermarket chain Sainsbury’s captured the imagination of the public when its specially commissioned Christmas advertisement aired in 2014.

The advertisement depicted the brief détente between German and British armed forces that occurred during World War I in the winter of 1914.

In it, as the opposing forces temporarily stall hostilities to come together for a moment, the central image is of soldiers having fun while playing football with one another, indulging in their shared love of the game.

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This is the popular narrative; in the spirit of fraternity and goodwill to all men, a game of football was played between German soldiers and British soldiers.

Indeed, there are various accounts of games being played between the opposing forces and some have even reported exact scores, naming particular units.

Is it fact or fiction?

While we cannot say for sure that there were proper games of football (i.e. the kind observing the rules), there are a number of reports detailing impromptu games between the two sides.

As outlined by historian Mike Dash in an article for the Smithsonian, “there is plenty of evidence that soccer was played that Christmas Day—mostly by men of the same nationality, but in at least three or four places between troops from the opposing armies.”

Perhaps the most cited example comes from a letter attributed to a British army doctor, published in The TImes on January 1 1915, that explained how “a football match [was] played between them and us in front of the trench”. 

Another story, from the German side, suggests that a game was played between the 133rd Royal Saxon Regiment and Scottish soldiers, which the Germans won 3-2.

These accounts vary in terms of detail and, while some report the use of a ball, others say that objects such as ration tins were used as a substitute.

So the evidence strongly suggests that games did take place across the front, but, given that their field was no-man’s land in war-time, they were by no means official matches.


Christmas truce Prince William National Memorial Arboretum 2014

The Football Association (in conjunction with the British Council, the Football League and Premier League) has been to the fore in memorials reflecting on the 1914 Christmas ceasefire and, in 2014, a dedicated sculpture, financed by the ‘Football Remembers’ project, was unveiled at the National Memorial Arboretum by Prince William.

Given that it marked a century since the Christmas Truce, 2014 was a particularly poignant year for remembrance and UEFA joined in as institutions around the world celebrated the 100th anniversary of the famous event. The likes of Wayne Rooney, Philipp Lahm and Gareth Bale were among those involved in the European governing body’s tribute.

At the time, then Uefa President Michel Platini said it was “particularly moving to imagine those young men 100 years ago finding a common language in football to express their shared brotherhood.”

Memorial games

On December 17, 2014, a commemorative match was played between the British Army and the German Bundeswehr at the home of National League club Aldershot Town.

Christmas truce game Keith Emmerson British Army Alexander Hess Bundeswehr 2014

The exhibition, dubbed the ‘Game of Truce’, was intended to honour “the spirit of the 1914 truce using the international language of football”. 

The game was played out in front of 2,547 spectators, including guests such as Sir Bobby Charlton, and the British Army emerged 1-0 winners over their German counterparts.

Art and popular culture

Soldiers laying down their weapons at Christmas and playing football instead has been perpetuated in poetry, with Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom Carol Ann Duffy evoking the image in her work The Christmas Truce, who wrote that the troops made “a battleground a football pitch”.

The poet and war veteran Robert Graves is often said to have laid the groundwork for such recollections in his 1964 short story depicting a truce between the British and the Germans.

Dramatic portrayals of the truce have extended into music too, with the video for Paul McCartney’s 1983 song ‘Pipes of Peace’ showing troops exchanging gifts and playing football.


Brazil must take momentum into World Cup – Renato Augusto

The Beijing Guoan man also revealed he will be begin a specially-devised training schedule in order to ensure he arrives in Russia in peak condition

Brazil midfielder Renato Augusto has stressed the importance of Brazil arriving at next year’s World Cup on a high.

The five-time world champions have been reborn under coach Tite, strolling to Russia with ten wins and two draws that saw them top South American World Cup qualification.

EXCLUSIVE: BGT meets Willian | Neymar moved to tears | EXCLUSIVE: BGT meets Renato Augusto

The Selecao will meet Switzerland, Serbia and Costa Rica in the group stage in what has been seen at home as a favourable draw, but the 29-year-old insists Brazil face tough group-stage opposition and must continue their excellent preparations for the tournament.

“They are all difficult opponents,” said the Beijing Guoan man. 

“We have not yet talked to Tite about them, but we are aware of the qualities of each opponent. Switzerland are very strong defensively, so we need to be well prepared and stay calm. 

Opta: Brazil are World Cup favourites

Brazil are going to win the World Cup!

Posted by Brasil Global Tour on Friday, December 1, 2017

“I always say that the most important thing is to continue with this excellent work being done by Tite and the technical committee, and to stay focused on having a great tournament regardless of the opponents we face.”

China-based Renato Augusto has repeatedly joined up with the squad days before the rest of the squad arrive in order to undergo extra physical work with the coaching team. 

And with the Chinese Super League now finished and not set to resume until March, the former Flamengo and Corinthians man says he will begin a specially-developed individual training regime from this month.

“In the next few days I will start a new schedule of physical preparation hat was discussed with Bruno [Mazziotti, Brazil physio] and Fabio [Mahseredjian, physical trainer] in order to reach the Cup at a the highest possible level. I want to arrive in Russia in peak condition.”

Renato Augusto and Brazil return to action in March 2018, when the Brasil Global Tour resumes with friendlies against Russia in Moscow and Germany in Berlin.


Rivalry reignited! Mourinho and Guardiola blame each other for derby row

Jose Mourinho was late for his Manchester United press conference on Tuesday afternoon. Nothing out of the ordinary there, you might think, but as one journalist at Carrington put it: “The cynical might suggest he’s waiting to see what Pep Guardiola, whose press conference is under way, says first on the Old Trafford tunnel bust-up.” 

With Mourinho, you can never be too cynical. By the time he took his seat, his Manchester City counterpart had indeed given his thoughts on the tunnel row which has overshadowed Sunday’s Manchester derby. It afforded him the chance to weigh up his response and fire back, and he did so.

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Guardiola, himself no slouch in the press conference stakes, kicked things off; he may not have shed any light on who threw the punches and the bottles, but he did give the distinct impression that United were the instigators.

Granted, it requires a little reading between the lines, but just as Mourinho’s previous behaviour suggests he probably did delay his entrance so he was well positioned to strike back, it is fair to say Guardiola is a seasoned pro at pointed, but unspoken, messages.

The Catalan said on several occasions on Tuesday that his team did nothing wrong. He admitted he encourages his players to celebrate big victories, like Sunday’s, but stressed that doing so “inside the dressing room” is fine. He seemed to make a particular point of using the word “inside”.

Pep Guardiola quote

The available information indicates it was Mourinho who entered the City dressing room. Guardiola’s implication is that somebody from United would have had to go in for the row to have happened, that United would have had to take exception to City’s normal celebrations, and that they would have had to go out of their way to make their feelings known. 

Guardiola said clearly that his players were not to blame – “No,” he replied when asked if his players over-stepped the mark. “Definitely not. Believe me. Definitely not,” – and without saying so he gave the impression that United are sore losers, although he was careful to avoid that exact phrase.

Word travels quickly these days, so Mourinho, and everybody else at Carrington, knew exactly what Guardiola’s side of the story was.

“He says, he says,” Mourinho snapped back. “I’m not here to comment on his words, the only thing I can say is that for me it was just a question of diversity, diversity in behaviours, diversity in education, just that and nothing more than that.”

Mourinho, like Guardiola, said a lot by saying very little, and he put the ball back in his rival’s court. Like Guardiola he did not accept the blame, and like Guardiola he suggested the other party were at fault.

But true to form his hints were also somewhat darker than Guardiola’s. The Catalan suggested City did nothing wrong by celebrating, and that he encourages them to do so, but Mourinho says that while the Catalan sees nothing wrong with that, plenty of others do; it is not just City’s fault, but Guardiola’s. 

GFX Info Jose Mourinho Manchester United

Mourinho does not make it clear whether he embraces that difference in behaviour and education, and he does not make it clear whether he believes Guardiola behaves better or is better educated than himself. But you would not imagine so.

Mourinho has raised the spectre of Mauricio Pochettino’s comments from earlier this season, when the Spurs boss said Guardiola “struggles to be a gentleman” when he wins.

Guardiola insists his Barcelona, Bayern Munich and City teams have always celebrated like this; Mourinho and Pochettino say those celebrations are out of order.

After 18 months of working in the same city, the Guardiola-Mourinho rivalry has finally sparked into life. There will be plenty of headlines to come of it as the Football Association continue their investigation into Sunday’s events.

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Yet it should not be forgotten that this is very much a side battle. Indeed it is a battle that is not entirely relevant to the outcome of the war.

Whatever punishments are meted out, Mourinho is in the weaker position. Whether City are bad winners or United are sore losers, the fact is that Guardiola’s men are 11 points clear at the top of the Premier League table.

Both men will have to focus on that sooner or later.


Why Liverpool could be more open to selling Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona in January

Philippe Coutinho skilfully Garrinchas away from the subject; one that Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp is neither “sure nor unsure” about, which also had the club’s CEO Peter Moore citing the unavailability of “a crystal ball” to forecast what will happen next.

But as December grows older and the January transfer window creeps closer, the queries over the Brazil international’s future will only fatten as Barcelona continue to feed their objective of unveiling him at Camp Nou.

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Philippe Coutinho Liverpool

The Reds boss is disinclined to have this topic dwarf all other talking points, as was the case in the summer, but there are valid questions to be asked and possibly uncomfortable answers to digest.

Why, having been so resolute in their not-for-sale stance in the off-season, would Liverpool be more open to Coutinho’s departure to Barca midway through the campaign?

And why would the 25-year-old, posting elite numbers and elevating his status further, cede Champions League football with a last-16 tie against Porto to contest and undertake the risk of moving in the winter preceding the World Cup?

The answer to the first largely circles around time. Liverpool were blindsided by Barca’s approach and the playmaker’s desire to leave in July, after his fresh five-year commitment at the turn of the year sans a release clause, and while the pre-season conditioning was in proper swing.

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The Merseysiders were neither prepared for, nor willing to lose a player so core to their planning. “The only thing I can say about this is that in life everything is about timing – whichever club asks early enough,” Klopp explained in the summer.

“It’s like how we do it. If we ask early enough, we try to do it. If you ask early enough, you can either switch the plan or whatever.

“But you cannot come up, close to the start of the season and things like this. It’s like I said: the club is bigger than anybody. That is the most important thing. It’s about doing it in the right moment. It’s how we do it when we want to bring players in.

“It is about timing. That is how I understand it. And that is all I have to say. Maybe everybody has a price – in the right moment. In the wrong moment? No price.”

HD Salah Coutinho Liverpool celebrate

Ahead of the start of the season, while experiencing difficulties in landing two priority targets in Virgil van Dijk and Naby Keita — the latter who will join on July 1 — as well as needing Mohamed Salah and the other new acquisitions to settle, letting Coutinho leave would’ve been negligent.

Why would Liverpool bow to Barca and help them rally after Neymar’s world-record switch to Paris Saint-Germain? Why would they sacrifice their own stratagem for the season and put themselves in the same situation as the Catalan side — wading through a ballooning market to replace an adroit Brazilian with loadsa money and loadsa clubs alert to the chance of profitting from this position of powerlessness?

It was, in all aspects, not the right moment. Fast forward, however, and there will have been 166 days between the first of three bids from La Liga’s leaders for Coutinho and the opening of the winter window.

Liverpool know what Barca want, what the player desires, and this wisdom will have permeated their recruitment designs for five months. They have had the valuable element of time.

Coutinho free-kick

Of course, this does not make replacing someone of his quality and capabilities easy, but it renders the process easier. It offers solid, constant thinking as opposed to buying out of pressure and panic, the opportunity to lay groundwork, as well as the ability to assess a potential sale as part of a full picture rather than an isolated decision.

Ideally and undoubtedly, Liverpool want to keep their premier players. They also exist in reality, and if Barca’s New Year’s resolution is to give up ridiculous add-ons to markedly improve their base offers — the highest of which was £82 million — with Coutinho again emphatically stating his desire to exit, there will be more to discuss than there was prior to 2017-18.

The Catalans will certainly not be encouraged, and there will be the hope that the Rio-born virtuoso wants to continue being on the supply chain for Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino until the end of the campaign.

To answer why he would be open to not being involved again in the Champions League this season in order to move to Barca is to understand the sacrifices he has already made to date.

Coutinho, Liverpool

Coutinho left Brazil at 18 to move to Inter, with his parents and wife Aine giving up everything to join him on an unpredictable journey. “They moved with me to help make the settling easier,” he told this writer in an exclusive for CNN Sport. “But it was hard for them. As they were old, it was difficult for them to learn the language or adapt to a new culture and ways of doing things like I could.

“Aine had to change her entire routine, my dad had to quit his job which was painful because he loves to be busy. My parents eventually moved back to Brazil, so since then it has been me and my wife, although they are always involved.”

By the age of 20, Coutinho had kitted up in four different countries across two continents, in order to advance in his career. He may feel that everything he has had to surrender or overcome since his teens to now is much more significant than continued participation in the showpiece to take another step forward.

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January will mark five years at Anfield for Liverpool’s two-time Player of the Season, in which he has developed and delivered.

As per Klopp, Coutinho, and Moore, no-one definitively knows what the window holds yet, but a depreciation of the club’s hardline stance if the moment and price is right would not be a huge surprise.

Time has made it so.